Since September is Senior Pet Health Care Month, it's the perfect time to consider the changing needs of your older dog, cat, or horse. Even among veterinarians, there are differences of opinion as to when a pet has officially entered his senior years. It depends on many factors, including breed, lifestyle, and genetics. On average, dogs and cats start their senior years between the ages of seven and 10 while horses start showing signs of old age between 18 and 20. It's important to know what changes to expect so you can continue to provide the best possible care for your aging pet.
Most Common Health Issues in Older Pets
Although dogs and cats can develop the health conditions described below at any age, they are significantly more common in seniors. These include:
- Arthritis: The cartilage between an animal's joints prevents damage to the bones by acting as a buffer. Over time, the cartilage wears away and causes the joints to become inflamed. Typical symptoms of animal arthritis include favoring some limbs over others, walking with a stiff gait, difficulty jumping, and crying in pain when picked up. Cats may have trouble grooming themselves.
- Cognitive decline: Approximately half of all dogs and cats over age 10 suffer from some form of senility. You may notice behavior changes such as increased aggressiveness or nervousness, confusion, and forgetting previously learned skills such as eliminating appropriately.
- Cancer: All types of cancer are more common in older pets than younger ones. Be sure to contact Grantsburg Animal Hospital right away if you notice behavior changes, any lumps or changes in the skin, weight changes, slow healing sores, or extreme fatigue.
- Diabetes: This condition occurs when the pancreas fails to make enough insulin, which is necessary for the production of glucose and having enough energy. Signs of diabetes in pets include fatigue, irritability, weight loss, vision changes, and increased urination.
- Kidney disease: Your pet's kidneys allow her body to remove waste and maintain a healthy digestive system. Aging can sometimes cause toxins to build up and cause kidney stones and other issues. Typical symptoms of kidney disease include increased accidents in the house, vomiting, weight loss, apathy, and increased thirst.
All of the above issues are common in horses as well. Additionally, older horses have a higher risk of developing Cushing's disease or laminitis. The first is a hormone disorder that may cause increased sweating, allergies, weight loss, abnormal shedding, mouth ulcers, and a change in body shape. Laminitis is inflammation of the tissues that connect the pedal wall and hoof bone together. Your horse may develop a shortened gait or be unwilling to trot at all. Fortunately, a specialized diet can usually reverse laminitis.
Preventive Care is Essential to a Long and Healthy Life
We recommend that you start bringing your pet in for bi-annual exams starting around the age of seven. This helps us detect and treat any potential health problems before they have a major impact on your pet's quality of life. However, don't wait until your pet's next exam if you are concerned about new symptoms. Senior care is just one of the many services we offer to companion animal and horse owners in the areas of Grantsburg and Frederick, Wisconsin and Pine City, Minnesota. We encourage you to contact the office nearest you to schedule a senior pet check-up today.